Günther Uecker 

“My objects are a spatial reality, a zone of light. I use mechanical means to overcome the subjective gesture, to objectify, to create a situation of freedom.”

Günther Uecker

A central figure of Düsseldorf’s postwar Group Zero, Günther Uecker has for seven decades developed his reliefs comprising dynamic arrangements of nails. Born in 1930 in Wendorf, Germany, Uecker studied at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee and Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, where he lives and works today. In the 1950s, influenced by Eastern philosophy and Gregorian chanting, he began a ritual of hammering nails. These materials signify protection and creation to the artist, who remembers nailing planks over the windows of his home to deter Soviet troops after the Second World War. By 1957, he was hammering nails onto canvas to achieve a “sundial” optical effect, casting light and shadow in ephemeral patterns. Soon, he integrated lightboxes, rotating discs, television sets, and chairs (Stuhl, 1963) into his nail sculptures. In 1961, Uecker joined Heinz Mack and Otto Piene in the anti-expressionist movement Group Zero, which prioritized expanding beyond the traditional dimensions of the canvas into kinetic, serial, and participatory realms. After the group’s dissolution in 1966, Uecker’s work incorporated aspects of conceptual and land art, and he began designing stage sets for operas. Among his public works are From Darkness to Light at the United Nations, Geneva (1978) and a Reflection and Prayer Room for the Reichstag, Berlin (1998–99). In 2020, he embarked on his series Lichtbogen, paintings of radiant blue-and-white arcs—and in 2022, his most recent series of nail reliefs Shields.

Uecker’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at museums worldwide. Retrospectives of his work have been organized by the Central House of Artists, Moscow (1988) and Kunsthalle München (1993), and he participated in Documenta (1964, 1968, 1977) and the 1970 Venice Biennale. His work resides in such collections as the Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate, London. Among his many honors are the Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts (2000) and the Staatspreis des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen (2015).


Selected Artworks

Selected publications

Selected Press